Richmond, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s poorest cities, had been betting on casinos to boost a lagging local economy plagued by a decayed urban center and high unemployment. The developers, who recruited landless Native America bands to front their plans, promised jobs for the jobless and cash for the city’s revenue-starved coffers. [Getting a tribal affiliation is critical, since Vegas-style gambling is illegal in California unless it's on land claimed as a tribal reservation, which falls under federal jurisdiction.]
The first proposal called for a billion-dollar-plus Vegas style resort directly on the waters of the Bay near the foot of the Richmond San Rafael Bridge, a major traffic artery connecting Marin County to the East Bay.
There’d be Sin City-style showrooms, a major hotel complex, high-roller tables, gourmet eateries, an exclusive condo development, and more — and all of it “green.”
But Berkeley developer Jim Levine, who made his pile on hazardous waste cleanups [including part of the Richmond site where UC Berkeley hopes to build a massive second campus of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory] was dealt a death blow when the Bureau of Indian Affairs determined that the Guidiville Rancheria band of Pomos had no historic connection with the site — a basic requirement for restoring a landless tribe to a new reservation.
Now the same fate has befallen the second project, put forward by Florida casino developer Alan Ginsburg, who also heads North American Sports Management.
Florida developer’s plans kayoed
Acting Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Donald Laverdure dropped the bad news Friday, declaring that the Scotts Valley Band of Pomos has no historic ties to land, disqualifying the site under the provisions of the National Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.
Ginsburg bought the land back in 2004 through a specially created corporate entity, NSV Development, while a second corporation, Noram-Richmond, LLC, would have developed the project on a 30-acre site just north of the city limits.
Here’s the verdict, from the Bureau of Indian Affairs press release:
“After closely reviewing the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians’ fee-to-trust application for a gaming facility in Contra Costa County, we determined that the Band’s parcels near the city of Richmond did not qualify as restored lands under IGRA’s equal footing exceptions because it could not demonstrate it had a significant historical connection to the site,” Laverdure said.
Here’s the key section from the BIA’s official findings:
In this case, the proposed gaming site is not located within the Tribe’s former reservation. The evidence in the Record also shows that the site is not even within the territory ceded in unratified treaties by the Tribe’s ancestors.Had the tribe chosen a site within their historic range, the BIA wouldn’t have had a problem.
And there’s no denying that the Scotts Valley band needs help. As we reported for the Berkeley Daily Planet in 2006, the Environmental Impact Statement for the casino project noted that “one-third of the adults are unemployed, 56.8 percent of tribal members receive some form of government assistance, and 95.5 percent are categorized as low income.”
Legal troubles began early
Ginsburg planned for a 225,000-square-foot casino. There would be no hotels, no luxury suites, no ferry service like that Levine planned to draw high-rollers to Point Molate.
Back in the days we started daily newspaper reporting in Las Vegas 48 years ago, folks would’ve called it Ginsburg’s operation “grind joint,” compared to Levine’s “carpet joint.”
But there would have been slots, lots of slots: 1,940 of them to be exact, along with a sports bar and a showroom.
Troubles began after the City of Richmond signed a $335 million contract with Ginsburg to provide police, fire, and other services to the casino, even though it's outside city limits.
Casino foes filed suit, charged that the agreement was illegal because it had been approved without the environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act.
The challengers, members of the Parchester Village Neighborhood Council, Citizens for East Shore Parks, and a newly created group called SPRAWLDEF [Sustainability, Parks, Recycling and Wildlife Legal Defense Fund] won their action, adding another delay to the project.
In the end, the lawsuit didn’t matter. The project failed on the most basic issue of all.
Casinos make for strange bedfellows
During the six years we reported on various Bay Area casino projects, we witnessed the creation of some very unusual alliances.
But the oddest alliance of all was between Richmond’s black clergy and the casino developers.
Throughout our reporting days, whenever the subject of gambling came up during our conversations with African American clerics, the reaction had always been negative, with gambling seen as a vice that preyed on the poor.
But whenever there was a hearing by the city or the Bureau of Indian Affairs on either project, African American ministers were on hand to praise the projects for the jobs they’d deliver.
Clearly, the developers had played their cards very carefully.
But it was a third casino project, one proposed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, that would have granted the tribal owners of a small tribal casino in nearby San Pablo the right to build a huge Vegas-style operation, with a major piece of the action going to fund depleted state coffers.
As we reported for the Daily Planet back in August 2004, one of the major beneficiaries would have been the guy who stage-managed the GOP “Brokers Brothers riot” that disrupted the 2000 recount in Florida and held paved the way for the George Bush presidency:
The deal gives the Bay Area casino monopoly to the Lytton Pomo Indian band, whose plans were backed by Republican financier Samuel P. Katz, a three-time failed candidate for mayor of Philadelphia, and Roger Stone, a tribal casino lobbyist identified by the Florida Election Commission as the GOP “dirty tricks” operative who stage-managed the irate Republican mobs during the 2000 ballot recount in Florida.But that plan also foundered.
Casino San Pablo is still there, but not the megacasino once envisioned by the Governorator, Katz, and Stone.
This story first appeared on Richard Brenneman's blog, Eats, Shoots 'n Leaves.